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Nagase Ends 4th Year Of Sculpting At Main Street Square

Courtesy Masayuki Nagase

The fourth year of work on the “Passage of Wind and Water” sculpture has come to a close. The largest privately funded public art project in the country is located at the heart of Rapid City’s Main Street Square. We visited with the artist responsible for the massive granite sculpture to discuss what he’s accomplished and what lies ahead in the project’s final year.

It’s a warm fall morning in Rapid City as I meet with Masayuki Nagase. That sound you hear behind me is a technician sandblasting one of two 30-foot tall granite spires that guard the entrance to Main Street Square.

“Yuki” Nagase says his goal was is to create images on the spire to symbolize the culmination of the sculpture project’s theme: transformation, change and hope.

Credit Courtesy Masayuki Nagase
Buffalo are just one of the many images on this panel of the Black Hills Stone Tapestry Garden spire.

“In (the) spire people probably find all the imagery of the animals…like the two wings and the four leggeds and some fish,” observes Yuki. “And I compose this…particularly the first layer of the spire…different landscapes…habitat. Like water…with fish and grasslands…and mountains and hills. And air.”

This spire sits at the end of what’s referred to as the Black Hills Tapestry Garden. It’s a series of granite stones on which Yuki has carved images reflecting the culture and scientific history of the Black Hills. Stones along the southern section of Main Street Square are called “The Badlands Tapestry Garden” and represent the cultural and scientific history of that area of South Dakota.

Yuki’s work this year focused on bringing to life various aspects of Black Hills’ history.

“This piece is kind of representing the period where people reintroduce the horse,” Yuki explains.  “So…horse is originally in this area of course….but that’s millions and millions of years ago. And then extinct once. But horses remained in Europe…just came back with Spaniards. And that people adopted as a part of…a very important part of life.”

There are also images of wagon wheels, hand prints and boot prints to reflect the arrival of white settlers to the area.

Credit Photo by Jim Kent
Images of wagon wheels in the Black Hills Stone Tapestry Garden reflect arrival of white settlers to the area

“So this is wagon wheels,” comments Yuki. “And people started to migrate from east coast to west coast. And some people came over here and decided to stay also. So many movement in that period…the late 1800s.”

And just as carvings that symbolize the wind tie together the various images Yuki created in the Badlands Stone Tapestry Garden…

“I address the importance of the element of water,” Yuki comments. “Because water is a visual theme to bind all the stones together on (the) Black Hills Stone Tapestry Garden.” 

Yuki also made sure to include images of the trees that are indigenous the Black Hills…the Ponderosa pine, spruce, aspen and ash.

It’s been 4 years since Yuki arrived in Rapid City to begin work on “Passage of Wind and Water”. Through intense heat, rain showers, hail storms and even an early dusting of snow the sculptor has soldiered on to create what he readily admits is the most involved project of his long career.

Credit Photo by Jim Kent
Flowing water – here with the sun shining above it – is a visual theme to bind all the stones together in the Black Hills Stone Tapestry Garden.

“One more year,” I comment.

“One more year,” Yuki agrees. 

“And only one spire,” I observe.

“One spire and one stone,” Yuki corrects me...laughing.

“Okay, one stone,” I acquiesce. “But still…are you able to approach the last year with a big sigh of relief and say ‘I only have this little bit to do’? Are you pressured because this part has to be as good as the rest? What’s in your mind?”

“Well…obviously I want to give a sigh of relief,” Yuki admits. “But I know it’s not yet. So this winter I really have to work on the last spire. And that’s my…you know….task. Big assignment. It looks like physically much less. And I hope so. Yeah.”

“So…you’ll be out of here by August 1?” I ask jokingly.

“No,” replies Yuki with a laugh.

Credit Courtesy Masayuki Nagase
“Wingeds” in flight and hoof prints are among the images on the south side of the Black Hills Stone Tapestry Garden.

Yuki hopes to be able to pace his work more easily next year. He also needs to decide how he…and the Rapid City community…will celebrate the project’s completion. Yuki wants to include the many artists of different genres who’ve been involved with his work since the project began as well as local teachers and students….

Rapid City Schools art teacher Sara Penfield is here today with her students.

“We have incorporated through Rapid City High School curriculum that we hope to really further promote to back the story behind the sculpting,” explains Penfield. “And then to encourage young people to bring their parents down and really just appreciate the art form for what it is. Art appreciation…that’s what it’s all about”

For those who wonder if Sara Penfield’s efforts to teach art appreciation to her students is working…there’s 12 year old Ben.

“It’s pretty cool,” Ben comments. “It’s really cool. Like especially once you get to know…why he created it and…his idea of what it was supposed to be.”

“And what was that?” I ask.

“It was like the past…and then coming into the future…and then…putting hope in for the…the past coming into the present and putting hope into the future.”

Asked why a 12-year old boy cares about a four-year old art project like Yuki’s, Ben says because it’s something that was created when he was “little” and it’s grown up with him.

Related link:

Passage Of Wind & Water Sculpture Project Resumes In Rapid City